- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2001

The ruling Taliban regime in Afghanistan is collecting millions of dollars a year in profits from illicit drug sales with some of the cash going to the terrorists who hide and train in that country, the head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said yesterday.
DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson told a House subcommittee that while there is little direct evidence to link the drug profits directly to Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on America, there is no question the Taliban controls drug trafficking in that country and is closely aligned with bin Laden and his terrorist network, known as al Qaeda.
"The relationship between the Taliban and bin Laden is believed to have flourished in large part due to the Taliban's substantial reliance on the opium trade as a source of organizational revenue," Mr. Hutchinson told the House Government Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources.
"The very sanctuary enjoyed by bin Laden is based on the existence of the Taliban's support for the drug trade," he said.
"This connection defines the deadly, symbiotic relationship between the illicit drug trade and international terrorism."
Since the Taliban took control in 1996, Afghanistan has accounted for more than 70 percent of the global supply of opium, the source crop for heroin.
Between 80 percent and 90 percent of the heroin sold in Europe is processed from opium produced and now being stockpiled in Afghanistan.
Mr. Hutchinson said opium sales by the Taliban generate as much as $40 million annually, with some estimates ranging far higher. He said that as the de facto government of Afghanistan, the Taliban taxes all aspects of the opium trade, including cultivation, processing and transportation.
The current tax rate for cultivation, he said, is 10 percent, while the "sporadic" tax on those who process and transport the drug varies, but ranges as high as 20 percent.
Last year, the Taliban ordered a ban on the cultivation of opium, saying it was "un-Islamic." The ban, according to a State Department advisory released last week, reduced that country's opium production by 95 percent, accounting for a global supply decline of nearly two-thirds.
Law enforcement authorities, however, called the ban a "public relations ploy" that let the drug traffickers stockpile supplies of opium and boost its price.
During the ban, the price of opium rose from $44 to $429 per kilogram, Mr. Hutchinson said, adding that since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Taliban has been unloading its warehouses of opium at prices ranging from $95 to $746 a kilo.
William Bach, a State Department counternarcotics official, told the subcommittee in yesterday's hearing that there was "ample evidence" that the Taliban has condoned and profited from the drug trade.
He said the Taliban regime also had "provided sanctuary to and received military assistance from terrorist groups in Afghanistan."
"Taliban taxes on opium harvests, heroin production and drug shipments have helped finance its military operations against rival factions," he said, adding that while there is no clear evidence directly linking drug traffickers and terrorists, the Taliban's "responsibility is obvious, particularly given its de facto control over 90 percent of the country."
Mr. Bach noted that an April report by the United Nations accused the Taliban of selling opium and heroin to finance its war against northern rebels and to train terrorists.
He said the report found that funds raised from the production and trade of opium and heroin were being used directly to "buy arms and war materials and to finance the training of terrorists and support the operation of extremists in neighboring countries and beyond."
The subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Mark Souder, Indiana Republican, said the United States needs to expand its focus on drug traffickers to include those in Afghanistan.
"We must now confront the new reality that the Afghan drug trade, largely without crossing our borders, has harmed our country as much as the drugs from half a world away," he said.

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